The Grain of the Universe (Proverbs 8:22-31)


 
Why is the good life a life of wisdom? Because wisdom is the grain of the universe. As long as you work with the grain, all is well. When you work against the grain, however, you get splinters.
 
In Proverbs 8:22-31, Woman Wisdom describes the role she played in creation. Some feminist theologians think Proverbs is here speaking of a feminine deity who exists along side God, a Mother Earth to his Father Sky. I think that reads way too much into the text. Woman Wisdom is simply a personification of God’s wisdom.
 
She is personified as a woman because young men—who are the intended readers of Proverbs—are attracted to women, and Proverbs wants them to be attracted to the right sort of woman. (Indeed, as I wrote earlier, Proverbs has three basic women: the noble wife, the adulteress, and Woman Wisdom. It’s almost as if the book is saying, “Get a good wife, and the best wife is Wisdom.”)
 
Anyway, back to the role of wisdom in creation. Verses 22-26 describe Wisdom as “the first of [God’s] works.”
 
The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, 
before his deeds of old;
I was appointed from eternity,
from the beginning, before the world began.
When there were no oceans, I was given birth,
when there were no springs abounding with water;
before the mountains were settled in place,
before the hills, I was given birth,
before he made the earth or its fields
or any of the dust of the world.
 
Notice the “before” and “when” statements. Before God performed the “deeds” of creation and salvation, before water came into existence or mountains and hills were thrust upward by the shifts of earth’s tectonic plates, before elemental minerals were forged in earth’s fires, wisdom existed.
 
Indeed, verses 27-30a highlight the role wisdom played in bring such things—and many others—into existence:
 
I was there when he set the heavens in place,
when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
when he established the clouds above
and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
when he gave the sea its boundary
so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
Then I was the craftsman at his side.
 
Wisdom is “[God’s] craftsman” who skillfully brought the world into being. Again, this description is a personification of God’s wisdom, not a literal Demiurge who exists separately from God and by means of which God created the world. (A literal Demiurge is a Platonic and Gnostic idea, not a biblical and Christian one.)
 
Finally, Woman Wisdom describes her joy in God’s handiwork.
 
I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.
 
This delight reminds us of the fundamental goodness of God’s creation. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31a). Joy, it seems, is also the grain of the universe.

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